The Courthouse Security Kabuki Dance
I’m no stranger to courthouses. About three times a week, more or less, I submit to the ritual security screening that protects our citizens while exercising their right of access to the courts. (In reality, only the judges are protected, because everyone else is vulnerable to threats of all kinds while standing in line to get in—but that’s a post for another day.)
Each courthouse has a different dance they make you do before you’re given the privilege of entry. Some courthouses, I have to take off my shoes. Some make me take my keys out of my briefcase and run them separately. Some make you take off your belts. Some have relaxed screening for lawyers, some don’t.
Hillsborough County is different every time I go. Yesterday was no exception. I ran my TSA-friendly laptop bag through the x-ray, put my phone and keys in separate bins, and walked through the metal detector. No beep—I’m pretty good at knowing what sets ’em off—and the guard on the other side asked me for my bar card. I assumed he needed to know if I was a lawyer so he could decide if he was going to make me take off my belt—the one I had just successful worn through the metal detector—and send it through the X-ray machine. So I took out my wallet to get my bar card. The guard said:
Oh, you have a wallet? You’ll need to send that through the metal detector.
I needed to get to my hearing quickly, so I didn’t argue then about this flagrantly stupid rule. Now, I will.
Wallets are not a security threat.
Making me take my wallet out of my pocket and running it through the metal detector contributes exactly zero to making the courthouse more secure. Instead, it causes confusion and delay and creates a very real risk that someone else might poach my wallet before I have a chance to retrieve it. Here’s the threat model that x-raying wallets would prevent:
- The threat must be made of a material that does not set off metal detectors.
- The threat must be small enough to fit in my wallet.
- The threat must be so large that I could not conceal it anywhere else on my person while I walk through the metal detector.
That threat, I respectfully submit to you, does not exist. If I could walk it through the metal detector in my wallet, I could just keep it in my pocket, or anywhere else on my person, and do the same, while the security staff were distracted with the image of my wallet on the x-ray screen. I can’t even imagine what might fit in my wallet that could be such a concern—a tiny ceramic knife? Small amounts of explosives? A cyanide capsule? Why the hell would I put any of these in a wallet, anyway?
The rule is stupid. It contributes nothing, and actually makes us less secure by distracting security staff and exposing us to potential theft. But it creates the illusion of careful screening, so it persists. And I cannot imagine why it was imposed in the first place.